Chicory [2023 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Featured Finalist]

Columbia, Missouri, 2011


ganged with bright, blue-fringed petals that grew

deeper into their lavender each dusk, each dusk I,


freshly off work and on foot, feet slip resistant and pants


khakied, used the little bushes as distraction, walking toward

the vermillion of a never-ending horizon. to head south,


from Papa John’s on Broadway to Campus View Dr. meant tramping


from downtown Columbia, through the university’s campus,

until the campus became no more, just a freeway leading to home, 4-lanes


of traffic, chicory, and the gravel and debris of Missouri-163. by mile 2, I was shirtless,


my penny-brown torso slightly boyish and bare, save for the black lettering

across my glistening clavicle, my shoulders sporting the braided straps


of a draw-string bag stuffed with the soiled garments of a workday.


green pepper and onion stench fusing with the mesh of miscellaneous documents.

and each night, grandma’s voice was an echo in my head,


“make sure you wear something bright so they can see you on that road,”


but, even as the sun set, the Missouri heat was far too bold.

and though no lone, white-tailed carcass lumped the pathway


that really wasn’t a pathway, I still thought obsessively of death.


or disappearance. of Lloyd Gaines, or the disaster it would be

if any of the drivers should miss me


amongst the small wildness of purple.





El Williams III is a poet from St. Louis, Missouri. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Orion Magazine, New England Review, Ploughshares, River Styx, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Cave Canem, Community of Writers, the Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference, Tin House, and the Watering Hole. He earned a dual MA/MFA from Indiana University and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Houston.